On February 23, 2000, Israel lost one of its most beloved singers. Ofra Haza, an artist of Yemeni-Jewish background, died at the age of 42, of AIDS-related pneumonia.
She left behind a musical legacy that endures today, in her many albums and hit singles.
Haza was born in the Hatikva Quarter outside Tel Aviv, the youngest of nine children. She joined a theater group as a child, earning a love for entertaining, and was spotted at age 12 by a recording agent.
At 19 she was already a veritable pop star in the Jewish state, with many calling her the “Madonna of the East.”
Her first album, released in 1980, led to several hits, including “Shir Hafrecha” (The Bimbo Song), which became her signature number.
In 1984, Haza had a breakout moment when her album Shirei Teiman gained popularity on an international scale. A slew of other albums followed over the next two decades, and in 1992 she received a Grammy nomination for her album Kirya.
Haza’s death in 2000 shocked Israel, particularly as most in the general public were unaware she was suffering from AIDS. In the aftermath, her song “Kol Haneshama” (The Whole Soul) became a particular anthem for its poignant lyrics.
Then Prime Minister Ehud Barak called her a cultural emissary, saying, “Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all.”
Haza is buried in the artists section of the Yarkon Cemetery in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv. A section of a public park in her old hometown is named in her honor.